We look back at history because the past becomes a mirror, helping us to see our modern selves more clearly. In the same way, looking outside of our own country can help illuminate, challenge and re-frame. The documentary Dear Mandela, which I made in South Africa together with my husband and co-director Christopher Nizza, will air for American audiences on public television for the first time on Tuesday, January 29, 2013. It is part of the 2013 season of the documentary series AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange.
"Beautifully Composed" - Popmatters.com
“The kids got back and found no home.” Describing the crisis she and her family are facing, a young mother in Durban, South Africa has trouble finding the words… and what to do next. “Where are you planning to sleep tonight?” asks Mnikelo Ndabankulu, who regularly meets with people who’ve been evicted by police—which means, people whose shacks have been knocked down by men with guns and axes. “I don’t know,” the mother frets. ” Spread the blankets and sleep right here? I really have no idea what to do.”
Illegal occupiers of private properties are still being evicted without the promise of alternative accommodation despite a landmark Constitutional Court decision that holds municipalities responsible for ensuring they are not left on the streets.
Thousands of slum dwellers including those under threat from forced eviction are taking part in a week of action across Africa supported by Amnesty International and partners.
"Many of the brutal scenes showing ANC forces attacking shack-dwellers could have been filmed in Apartheid era times, and S’bu Zikode sounds very much like a young Nelson Mandela fighting for his rights, and the rights of his people, against an uncaring and elitist authority"
- Jennifer Munro, writer
‘Dear Mandela’ is a great piece of documentary film, managing to educate and well as enthrall the audience with the personal stories of these young, unflinchingly brave and passionate activists who, alongside school, childcare responsibilities, and full time employment, are following in the footsteps of their great hero Nelson Mandela, and putting up a legal and ideological fight against the might of the South African government.
- Emma Norton, Far From the Silver Screen
Hlonipha Makoena, Author of Magema Fuze: The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual:
“Dear Mandela is a colour-saturated and vivid story of young people organising themselves into a protest movement against forced evictions, relocations and their impoverished conditions. In the year that the African National Congress celebrates its 100th anniversary, the name of Nelson Mandela will be invoked many times to affirm and reaffirm the righteousness and timeliness of South Africa’s liberation from an oppressive apartheid system. Dear Mandela is a different kind of invocation – it does not seek to merely remind the audience of the end of apartheid and the sacrifices that were made to bring that about. It is a reminder that the end of apartheid was also the beginning of promises: starting with Mandela’s “never again” and culminating in the “better life for all” message of recent elections, South Africa’s poor have been promised a place in the new South Africa and it is time to deliver. Dear Mandela is the best kind of expression of what these promises mean to a young generation, who were probably too young to vote in the first election of 1994, but are old enough to know how to read the Constitution and the rights enshrined in it. Dear Mandela is their cri de coeur and manifesto. For anyone wanting to understand how the voiceless and powerless make their demands known, Dear Mandela is a must.”
Marie Huchzermeyer, Author, Cities with ‘Slums’: From Informal Settlement Eradication to a Right To The City In Africa:
“Filmmakers Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza sensitively capture how everyday life in an informal settlement intersects with the threat of eradication. Dear Mandela touches us with the doubts, fears, reflection and courage of members of the Abahlali shack dwellers movement in Durban in their resolve to defend a new democracy against its custodians’ resort to apartheid era legislation against informal settlements. In the depth of the backlash that the Kennedy Road community endured, this documentary leaves us with questions that few have dared to ask about the new South Africa”.
On April 27, Freedom Day was marked throughout the country via political party rallies, NGO commemorations and thousands of now customary non-political braais. It is a national holiday that has come to signify something different to each and every South African. Yet, this weekend’s festivities also marked a milestone for the South African informal settlement movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo. As they took to the streets once again for an UnFreedom Day march through central Durban, the award-winning documentary on the movement, Dear Mandela, was aired for the first time on South African television. Even though it was broadcast on Mzansi Magic channel on DSTV (thereby excluding the vast majority of South Africa’s poor), it quickly set off a fire storm of chatter on social networking site Twitter with #DearMandela trending for hours while many viewers decided to write their own UnFreedom Day tweets to Nelson Mandela.
The film charts the daily struggles and activism of three distinctive young members of Abahlali who take up the cause of development and dignity with their communities. They put aside their personal aspirations to escape from the shacks and they unwittingly put their lives at risk when the inevitable backlash bring them face to face with ruthless political repression.
What I found invaluable about the film Dear Mandela is that, beyond the misleadingly narrow service delivery discourse that dominates party and NGO politics, the members of Abahlali baseMjondolo recognise that they are fighting for much more than toilets and a roof over their heads. The shackdwellers are not only demanding services, they are also demanding the ownership of the development process itself.
"Unexpectedly gripping, eye-opening...humanizes the nameless protesters we see on the news hurling bricks at the police through a haze of teargas....What is most striking about Dear Mandela is its ability to capture life in Kennedy Road without prettifying it or horrifying it – without the tinged wide-angle or the shaky camera.
We move through schools, initiation ceremonies, shack fires, evictions, onto taxis, into courtrooms, to illegal electrical wirings, through Gulag-like transit camps of tin shacks and – jarringly – to swanky casinos where government housing bosses sip champagne and congratulate themselves."
While interviewing numerous officials and taking cognisance of the flood of urbanisation facing our cities, Dear Mandela doesn’t purport to bring you both sides of the story with scientific accuracy. Instead it purports to show that the “dangerous” masses are people with emotions and dilemmas, lives and dreams like you and me.
Perhaps most important of all, it shows what happens when youths take their destiny into their hands the way the ANC youths of old did. It is a call to action as much as it is an indictment of a government that has lost its way."
A SHACK is still a home — and one community’s courageous fight for the right to continue living in their makeshift dwellings is captured in the moving documentary Dear Mandela. Winner of the best South African documentary award at the 2011 Durban International Film Festival and a nominee for best documentary at the recent African Academy Awards, the film was written, directed and produced by Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza, who are based in New York. Dear Mandela follows the journey of the Abahlali baseMjondolo organisation, whose members live in the Kennedy Road settlement, as they set out to stop the government from evicting shack dwellers from their homes. They believe the KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of Re-Emergence of Slums Act (KZN Slums Act) violates the rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution.
“In 2007, we read an article about the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement and immediately were interested in its philosophy of living politics — politics that everyone can understand and that talks about the need for people to have the basic necessities of life like enough water, enough food, shelter, electricity. “We went to meet the Abahlali members in 2007, and after getting to know some of the young people, who were so passionate, so committed to justice, we knew we had to make the film.”